Charlie Sheen -- the celebrity as demigod

Bruce Willis once described the basic trajectory of celebrity in America as having four stages: You arrive, you peak, you bomb and you come back. Whether he realized it or not, Willis was also describing the phases that anthropologist Joseph Campbell had discerned for the hero across cultures — save for one thing. Heroes don’t bomb. That is a distinctly American interpolation, one designed to ensure that our demigods never confuse themselves with gods. As our stars rose into the heavens, we reserved the right to humble them, to bring them back to Earth. Think of Eddie Murphy or John Travolta or Tom Cruise, all of whom seemed to get too big for their britches and were brought down a peg for it.

So Charlie Sheen’s verboten media blitz flaunting a lifestyle that is decidedly not shared by the vast majority of his fans (how many of us have two live-in porn star “goddesses” or can profess to have consumed an amount of cocaine that would have killed a mortal?) explicitly violates the contract, which seems to have been Sheen’s point…

And that may be Sheen’s real infraction to his detractors: In letting us know that he is nothing like us — that his life is the American dream on steroids and that many of us, as he says, are jealous of him for it — he has shown us that envy is at least as potent a force as identification. With his firing this week, one might even say that he sacrificed his career for the cause.